Despite that it is reality television, we Iranian-Americans have been eagerly (and skeptically for this particular one) anticipating the Sunday night premiere of the Shahs of Sunset on the Bravo channel. Most of the time we only see Iranians (or, as is often referred to in the presence of Americans, "Persians") represented on television chanting something derogatory about Americans. So, in theory, a platform on a reality show is a step up for us. Indeed, sources note that the most common depictions of Iranians these days are that of "terrorists" or "religious zealots."
Other than the Persian rugs and the stereotypically depicted overbearing Iranian mother, very little on the Shahs of Sunset offers a grounded characterization of the Iranian-American community. The show appears to offer more a caricature of the saturation of consumption and materialism magnified by the opulence of being raised in the uber-affluence of Beverly Hills than it does anything about Iranian-American subculture.
As a first generation Iranian American who has lived in the states my entire life, there is not a single Iranian character on this show that I can relate to or recognize in my own community. We don't walk around saying, "Hello, I'm Persian," to justify outrageous behavior, nor do we all shorten our Iranian names to something flashy like "GG."
This show follows a bunch of entitled buffoons who just happen to be Iranian, but other than their constant assertion of "Persian" this or "Persian" that, the depictions don't dig beyond the surface. Indeed, the people on the show do little to try to dig deeper, as their confessionals confirm the most common stereotypes—bemoaning how controlling their "Persian moms" are, or the "Persian princess" stereotype that Iranian women can't take care of themselves and need their daddies to bankroll them. When the men and women in the first episode start arguing about whether or not they date outside of their culture, I found myself struggling to figure out what culture, exactly, they were referring to. I saw little but a culture of excess and materialism being shown here.
For those Americans interested in getting a deeper glimpse of Iranian culture, I recommend considering the recent Oscar-winning Iranian foreign film A Separation. As for the Shahs of Sunset, I'm hoping it gets canceled faster than I can type "Persian bomb."
Copyright 2012 Azadeh Aalai